Over the years, the Verizon IndyCar Series has seen second-generation, third-generation, and even a fourth-generation driver try their luck in the premier
e open-wheel series in North America.
Three names that are royalty in the history of the sport; Andretti, Foyt, and Rahal have each entered into this conversation, and each has one thing in common. At some point in their careers, each son of a legend drove either for their father or grandfather’s team. Each driver has enjoyed their share of success or depression during this foray, but with noticeable differences. The variance in the plan of attack shows that there is a right way and a wrong way to handle this situation.
In the first of this two-part series, I will take a look at the best example of the negative route: the trials and tribulations of one A.J. Foyt IV, driving for his grandfather’s team.
Whether you are a fan of auto racing or not, the name A.J. Foyt is the definition of the sport. Not only has “Super Tex” won the Indianapolis 500 four times as a driver, but he has also won the Memorial Day Classic as a full-time car owner and was successful in both front-engined roadsters and rear-engine speedsters.
Any vehicle that featured four wheels, Foyt found a way to the winner’s circle. So understandably, the expectations of a future generation of Foyt, in this case, A.J. Foyt IV, would face very high expectations.
Those views were further enhanced when Anthony won the inaugural Firestone Indy Lights championship in 2002, winning four races of the
series’ seven events. Although just 18 years of age and with only two years of open wheel racing experience on his resume, Foyt was quickly
pointed to taking over the famous No. 14 machine for his grandfather’s team in the IndyCar Series for 2003.
Obviously, the expectations for any driver carrying the name would be high from the fans, the media, and the team. Sadly, they may have too
high and too demanding. Foyt IV’s debut season was certainly a trial by fire, as he failed to post a top ten finish and also was not running at the end of nine of the season’s sixteen events.
Foyt IV did manage to finish in his first Indy 500, coming in 18th, yet one common factor kept being brought up from those inside the fences. As the younger Foyt continued to be mired in the back of the pack, his grandfather’s frustrations began to be made known.
Nowhere did these frustrations surface more publicly than after Foyt IV crashed out in the early laps of the 2004 Indy 500, when on live television, ABC publicly aired a frustrated radio comment from his grandfather following the incident. Foyt IV finished 33rd and last, while
his cousin Larry who also participated in the same event finished only spot higher after also crashing out of the event.
After only posting three top ten finishes in his first three seasons of IndyCar competition, Foyt IV spent the 2006 calendar in the NASCAR Busch Series (now Xfinity Series), before returning to IndyCar in 2007 with Tony George’s Vision Racing team.
Although Foyt would reach the peak of his career accomplishments over the next two seasons, including his career best finish of third place
at Kentucky Speedway, Foyt would ultimately lose his seat and wound up once again end up with his family operation for a pair of Indy 500 one-off efforts in 2009 and 2010.
Sadly, the pressure of driving for his grandfather seemed to add an undesired distraction as he struggled through the month of May in 2009, ultimately finishing 16th on race day. His final Indy effort was equally rough, leading Foyt to leave the team and racing for good after failing to make the top 24 cut on Pole Day.
For A.J. Foyt, IV, who currently works for the Indianapolis Colts as a scouting assistant, his five-year odyssey for his family-run operation shows how “keeping it in the family” can be a nightmare.
Later this week, I will look into how Graham Rahal and his father Bobby have made it work over the past three years at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.
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